Summary: To begin this series about The Good News of the gospel, and to really understand why it is so Good, we must first set the stage and start with the BAD news.
As my final series of preaching here at LBC, I want to share the fundamental reason for all that I, as a Christian and a pastor, have served and lived for, and that is the Gospel message of Christ Jesus.
To begin this series about The Good News of the gospel, and to really understand why it is so Good, we must first set the stage and start with the BAD news. As one author wrote;
“The good news is only as good as the bad news is bad, and in Scripture eternal happiness and everlasting joy are balanced against the alternative—eternal misery and everlasting anguish.”
The bad news is not only, well, bad, it’s quite terrifying and can be summed up in one word-HELL. Now Hell has fallen upon hard times as it were in that no one wants to talk about it, believe in it, or acknowledge its existence. In one sense this is understandable for who wants to consider the reality of an eternal, conscious punishment for themselves or their loved ones? As C. S. Lewis wrote,
“There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom.”
Not only do the Scriptures unhesitatingly speak of the reality of hell, but it was Christ Himself who spoke more about hell than heaven! One author noted;
“no Bible spokesman places more stress on hell as the final consequence of God’s judgment of condemnation than Jesus. God’s Son was the great theologian of hell.”
And the early church held an almost unified concuss on the reality of hell as a place of eternal punishment than their consensus on defining the Trinity.
So why did Hell fall out of “favor” in Christian circles? Denying the existence of hell is a mark of the liberal churches for sure but they deny a great deal of Scripture as well. The rise of Universalism, in which everyone gets to heaven, has discounted the idea of hell. Other groups such as the Jehovah Witness and Seventh-Day Evangelists believe that hell is not eternal conscious punishment but complete annihilation, the person in body and spirit ceases to exist. Even within the pale of fundamental, evangelicals there has been a shift in thinking. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s saw a new Statement of Faith adopted and published by Fuller Theological Seminary and which became popular, in which the old Statement’s language of Christ “assigning unbelievers to eternal punishment” was changed to state that, “the wicked shall be separated from God’s presence.” The new Statement changed the persons involved (from “unbelievers” to “the wicked”) and the scope of their fate (from “eternal punishment” to separated from God’s presence”), thus allowing for greatly broader views. But the truth is that, “separation from God,” is no threat at all to unbelievers who chose to live their whole lives “separated from God.” Hell then becomes nothing but a continuation of that non-relationship for eternity. Besides that, using the phrase, ‘separated from God,”though found in Scripture, can be misleading. Since God is omnipresent, His presence is even in Hell. Ps.139:7-8;
“If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”
Unbelievers will not be separated from God, but without a mediator to shield them, they will only be exposed to the manifested presence of His Divine wrath for all eternity. They will only know Him as a “consuming fire!”
This attempt to mollify the doctrine or to create a “kinder, gentler theology” arises not from Scripture, but from our emotional distaste for the doctrine. As one author noted;
“While not denying the Bible’s teaching on hell, it is seldom preached on—even in the most conservative circles. One wonders how this can be if pastors are preaching expository messages, working through Bible books and desiring to proclaim the whole counsel of God. One clue is that positive relational preaching is more the order of the day. For some preachers this is a conscious and deliberate attempt to see their churches grow through meeting the felt needs of today’s baby boomers and appealing to their new priorities.”
Many people, even Christians, think it unloving to speak about hell. That somehow one might have their sensibilities shocked, or that it’s so medieval and certainly not the way to attract modern people. Those are lies of the devil, if you still believe in him! When there is a danger, what better way to love someone than to warn them of that danger! Isn’t that what Jesus did again and again? Listen to Mt.18:8;
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.”